Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rigatoni with Chicken, Okra, and Cucumber

It becomes inherently more noticeable how much food I eat during the summer. During the school year, I eat three times a day because I only have so much time.  Now that most of my days consist of staying at home and studying, food has become so much more accessible. Instead of having to suffer a grumbling stomach in class, I can just go downstairs whenever I want to fix myself something to eat. Of course, this blessing is also a curse. I’ve pretty much resorted to eating every three hours due to boredom.

Occasionally, hunger overrides boredom and I cook because I’m hungry.  After my mom and I went out to practice driving, we came home famished and exhausted. Lunch, we decided, would be quick and simple. My mom began to pull vegetables out of the refrigerator as I selected a box of rigatoni from the pantry.

This pasta dish is what I like to call of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink variety. We used up all the random, leftover vegetables—a handful of snowpeas, a lone bell pepper, a few shallots, a cucumber, and some okra. I sliced the vegetables (to match the shape of the pasta) while my mom sliced a chicken breast and sautéed it. Then she pan-fried the vegetables and added the cooked pasta. Some cooking water and a few spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese were added to create a sauce.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spinach-Tofu Burgers

When I created my eighteen before eighteen list a year ago, I presumptuously wrote “going vegan for a whole week” as one of the tasks. Then I looked up the definition of veganism, learned that it meant I wouldn’t even be able to eat honey, and then immediately changed “vegan” to “vegetarian”. I figured that going vegetarian for a week was doable—probably—since I could still consume butter and eggs and cream and cheese.

Even before I start my Vegetarian Week, I can say with utmost certainty that I will never become a vegetarian. Ever. I’m partial to both vegetables and meat, but there is no question that I love T-bone steaks and rack of lamb chops and cedar-smoked salmon just a little more than broccoli. 

My Vegetarian Week started off on a lazy Sunday morning. I ate a bowl of plain yogurt sweetened with raspberry jam, topped with a couple spoonfuls of Homemade Granola. As I sat down to enjoy my vegetarian breakfast, my younger brother Kyle burst into the kitchen and decided that he wanted to fry some bacon. My mouth involuntarily watered.

For lunch, I made Spinach-Tofu Burgers. These patties are actually surprisingly filling and flavourful. I really liked how the spinach-tofu mixture held together really well and browned nicely. The soya sauce, black sesame seeds, and sesame oil paired really well with the blandness of the tofu. Sadly, as much as I like spinach and tofu, they don’t taste as good as beef meatballs. What can I say—I’m an omnivore at heart.

*         *         *

I successfully went a week without consuming meat. Looking back, the only thing that comes to mind is that it was not a fun week. Towards the end of the seven days, I was feeling hungry and restless and fatigued, even after I ate. I’m not going to lie, I don’t think I went vegetarian the way I was supposed to (i.e. I made these Spinach-Tofu Burgers and a large pan of spinach, tofu, sesame, butternut squash, chickpea stir-fry, and literally at that for the whole week. I also ate a lot of peanut butter. Surely, a true vegetarian week should encompass more variety than that, but since I was the only one in my family eating vegetarian, it took awhile to finish the Spinach-Tofu Burgers and the stir-fry.

I talked to Heather of Tea With Me, who has attempted vegetarianism and is currently on the paleo diet, about the merits and downfalls of each diet. She mentioned how she never felt completely satisfied with vegetarianism, despite how much she ate. She explained how the paleo diet works (basically, on the diet, you can’t eat grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar) and how she feels more energized and has had less cravings. I don’t diet for weight loss purposes, but I would consider trying the paleo diet as a lifestyle change for better health. 

Click below for the recipe.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chocolate Oreo Cupcakes with Cookies and Cream Frosting

That one moment when everything becomes clear—the light-bulb moment, the “eureka” moment—is priceless. Understanding washes over you and you feel a certain defiant, reluctant kind of relief that you’re one of them (the people in the know) now.

My latest baking “eureka” moment happened a couple weeks ago when I finally made the perfect Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream. I get it now; I understand why the world has been caught up in such a cupcake craze. Cupcakes are the perfect portion-controlled cakes, that, when done right, taste like little bites of sugary heaven.

After the success of my first official batch of cupcakes, I was eager to start playing around with flavour combinations and variations. Suddenly, any and all occasions were excuses to whip out my muffin tins and stand-mixer.

A couple weeks ago, my brother Kyle, my friend Tammy, and I went on a pilgrimage with our friend David to his dad’s sushi restaurant. I don’t use the word pilgrimage lightly—it took us two and a half hours and three bus tickets to bus to the restaurant (and two and a half and three more bus tickets to get home). I almost died when I saw how big the sushi boat we had ordered was. It was insanely delicious.

To thank David and his dad, I offered to bake them something. “Cheesecake,” David said, “the one with the Oreo cookie crumb base.” The next week, we got together with David to go swimming at his place. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cream cheese on hand, so I decided to make Chocolate Oreo Cupcakes with Cookies and Cream Frosting instead. Tammy came over beforehand to help me make the cupcakes, and to be quite honest, it took all of our combined willpower not to devour all the cupcakes before we gave some to David.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Garlic Bread PLUS update: eighteen

As summer stretches on, it has come to my attention that I will be turning eighteen in about half a year. That means I have but six months left to complete the other eleven items on my eighteen before eighteen list. I’ve gotten dressed up; I’ve watched all six seasons of Lost; I’ve cookie ninja-ed a complete stranger; I’ve had a proper sleepover; I’ve run for student council; I’ve biked from Edward Gardens to the Lakeshore; I’ve visited Cornell for three weeks. Suffice to say, I’ve done all the easy stuff.

This summer, I’m hoping to see the sunrise, finish reading War and Peace, go vegetarian for a week, and get my G2 driver’s licence. I’m not quite sure what to first though. Theoretically, to wake up extremely early for one morning to see the sunrise should be easier than to finish reading the 875 or so pages I have left of War and Peace, but waking up early is really, really hard to do in the summer. Incidentally, I’ve decided to tackle the issue of getting my driver’s licence.

I’ve been driving for nearly a year and a half now and I’d like to think that I’m a decent driver, save for my less than stellar parking skills. On a particularly balmy Civic Holiday afternoon, I practiced driving to the test center with my mom. We headed east out of the city. In unfamiliar territory, I missed the turn onto the street which led to the test center, so I kept driving in hopes of doubling back on a different road.

“You can’t miss this turn,” my mom counselled as we approached the stoplight, “otherwise we’ll end up on the highway.” A stark image of my mother holding onto her seat for dear life while I tried not to steer the car into oncoming traffic at a hundred kilometres an hour popped into my head. Driving at seventy already left my palms sweaty—I didn’t want to know what would happen at a hundred kilometres an hour.

I signalled to turn right. The car in front of us moved forward with a lurch. Suddenly the driver backed up a little bit and got out of his car. It appeared that he had rear-ended the car in front of him. “Um, Mom,” I asked worriedly. “What do I do? Do I drive around them?” Cars from behind us were changing lanes and whizzing by.

“Yoooouuu,” my mother replied, stretching the word out into three syllables, “get out of the car and let me drive.”

Disaster averted, we located the test center and practiced parking and driving in the area. On our way home, we dropped by the grocery store to buy some bread. As I approached the bakery section, the scent of freshly baked bread wafted towards me. Suddenly, I was hit with the hugest craving for garlic bread.  After some debate, I managed to convince my mom that we would finish the entire baguette, that I would personally eat the entire thing if I had to, and that half of a stale baguette would not end up in the garbage (like it apparently usually did).

The second I got home, I asked all my family members if they wanted garlic bread. As it turned out, Dad and my older brother were still seated around the TV watching the women’s soccer game. “As much as I can have,” was how my brother responded, his eyes glued to the screen. Well, then, I thought. Better use the whole baguette.

I minced several cloves of garlic and then sautéed it gently in some olive oil. (This helps take some of the “bite” away.) I mixed the garlic with the butter and added some salt, parsley, and white truffle paste. Using the sharpest knife in the kitchen—which, coincidentally, is the steak knife with which I cut myself last year—I sliced the bread. I slathered the garlic butter onto the bread and toasted it for 5 minutes at 400F.

The results were delicious. Garlicky, buttery, slightly crispy bread heaven. I had had the intention to save some garlic bread for my younger brother, who wasn’t home, but all bets were off when my mom, who had said she couldn’t eat crispy things because of her sensitive teeth, snatched up the last piece.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Classic Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

I’m quite embarrassed to admit this, but as it turns out, it has taken seventeen years for me to get around to making proper cupcakes. My cupcake stigma started way back in grade school. This was the age when kids brought in treats for the entire class to celebrate their birthdays. I remember biting into my first store-bought vanilla cupcake and thinking that I hated frosting.

Over the years, I’ve attempted making cupcakes, but to no avail. The problem, I figured, was that I didn’t know what a proper cupcake taste like. Last summer, I tried the cupcakes from my co-op place, and nearly died (in a good way) of a sugar rush. I endeavoured to make a cupcake as delicious as those from my co-op place. But then school happened and I didn’t have the energy to experiment. Slowly, cupcakes receded into the deep recesses of my mind. They were all but forgotten until a couple weeks ago when I purchased a cupcake recipe book from Williams-Sonoma. Cupcakes were back on the radar.

The cupcake book was overflowing with ideas. Dulce de Leche, Tiramisu Cupcakes, Rocky Road... I thumbed through all the recipes, unsure of which one to try first. I was going out for dinner with friends later that evening and had decided to make the cupcakes for dessert. So I texted one of my friends asking her about her flavour preferences. “Surprise us,” she texted back.

Finally, I decided to pair Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream, a classic combination. I packed my cupcakes up and headed out to meet my friends for dinner. Uncharacteristically, three of seven members of the dinner party bailed for various reasons. The four of us? We just snickered and ate the extra cupcakes.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bailey's Coffee Ice Cream

One of the things that I love the most about having a best friend is having access to a second wardrobe, bookshelf, and kitchen. But of course, there’s a catch. Your best friend must generally be the same size as you, have the same taste in books as you, and enjoy cooking or baking enough to invest in kitchen appliances as you do. This is when the whole “opposites attract” theory really doesn’t help.

Luckily, I have one of those best friends. Jenny and I basically wear the same size, have the same general taste in cookbooks and fiction, and more or less spend the same amount of time in the kitchen. (That last statement probably isn’t true—I practically live in my kitchen whereas Jenny uses hers for the occasional cooking of meals like a normal person.) She’s a fellow foodie, and as her best friend, I have free reign over any of her kitchen appliances.

I already have a (KitchenAid) stand mixer, a (somewhat broken) handheld electric mixer, a (definitely broken) blender, a (perfectly functioning) food processor, and a coffee grinder. Jenny has all the appliances I have plus a waffle maker, a crepe maker (which, last time I asked, was still unused), an immersion blender, a snow shaver, and best of all, an ice cream maker.

In my opinion, ice cream is definitely one of those things that are worth making at home. Homemade ice cream tastes ten-times better than the average store-bought ice cream. However, making ice cream is sometimes a hassle. The ice cream bowl must be frozen overnight at the very least. The custard base must be cooked over the stove and chilled before throwing it in the ice cream machine.

Removing just one or two of these tedious steps would make the whole process a lot simpler and less time-consuming. The first thing to go, I decided, was definitely the eggs. So I googled easy egg-free ice cream recipes and adapted one to make Bailey’s Coffee Ice Cream. It took literally five minutes to stir the five ingredients in the recipe together.

After twenty-five minutes of churning and a couple hours in the freezer, I had a punchy coffee ice cream spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. At first, the alcohol flavour is extremely strong, but it mellows out into a beautiful Bailey’s-coffee medley after a few days in the freezer. Still, this is an ice cream you wouldn’t want to serve to the little ones.

Click below for the recipe.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Arugula Ham Grilled Cheese

So it was summer for me, for about two weeks after the three-week summer program. During those two weeks, I went to NYC with my family and visited some universities. We went shopping, I spent way more money than I should have, and I hung out with friends when I came back to Toronto.

After those two weeks, I began to feel antsy, like I wasn’t being productive enough with my time. My theory is that summers should be relaxing, but also productive. Right now, that translates into either getting a job to save for university, or studying in order to get into university.

With a month of school left, it’s time to get down to business. There are SATs to study for, textbooks to review, and books to read. I had put a bunch of books on hold at the library online and the first one, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell had arrived at my local branch. So I decided that I would go to the library to pick up my book and begin my sure to be long and tumultuous acquaintance with the grade twelve biology textbook.

As soon as I got to the library, I went to the holds aisle and checked out the book, lest I forget it (and have to pay the $1 fee for not picking up a hold—is this necessary, Toronto?). Then I made my way up the stairs to the fifth floor to the Science and Technology floor of the library, my footsteps heavy and slow. I might have been feeling guilty about how much I’d been slacking off this summer, but that certainly didn’t mean that I wanted to sit down with a biology textbook for hours on end.

So I decided to find an empty table on the second floor and read Outliers instead. Yeah, I’m one of those people, the ones who read books to procrastinate. (Side note: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is a very intriguing book which discusses why successful people are successful. It references some aspects of psychology and takes the “bigger picture” into account. I really loved it and would recommend anyone to read it).

Three hours later, I finished reading the book and with no other obstacles standing in the way of myself and the biology textbook up on the fifth floor, I went up. I stomached the first twenty pages of the textbook, which was basically a review of the concepts I’d learned in chemistry this year. Then I decided that I was hungry and that because I love Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, I should go home and make myself an Arugula Ham Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

Click below for the recipe.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gluten-Free Vegan Strawberry Banana Pancakes

You know it’s summer when you just can’t seem to wake up early anymore. After weeks of living in a dorm room with extremely thin curtains which do nothing to keep out the blinding morning sunlight and seventy other noisy girls, I’m more than ready for a good night sleep. For the first time in a long time, my alarm clock is off and the double curtains in my bedroom are completely drawn. 

 A couple weeks ago while I was shopping at a Williams-Sonoma in the US, I bought Babycakes Covers the Classics, a cookbook with vegan and gluten-free recipes for baked goods. As soon as I returned home to Toronto, I excitedly went to my favourite health food store to purchase a plethora of gluten-free flours and vegan baking substitutes. I promised my mother and my younger brother Gluten-Free Vegan Strawberry Banana Pancakes the next morning, figuring that I would wake up early to make pancakes for the family.

But after two glorious days of sleeping in, I forgot to set my alarm and ended up waking at 11AM when my mother burst into my room to announce that she was going out. I awoke in a daze, ambled leisurely down to the kitchen, and proceeded to make pancakes anyways. The pancakes were not the first thing that I’d made since returning home. I had already made (and burnt) a batch of granola and produced a flat, lumpy cornbread. Discouraged by my lack of recent success in the kitchen, I measured the gluten-free flour carefully and poured the agave syrup slowly.

An hour later, I brought a plateful of pancakes topped with juicy, red strawberries out to my dad, who was watching the Olympics. I knew my mom had gone out and that my older brother had probably gone to work, but I figured that my younger brother and my cousin would scarf down the remaining pancakes. “Where is everybody?” I asked.

“Out,” my dad replied, his eyes glued to the men’s artistic gymnastics competition.

Yes, that’s right, my younger brother Kyle and my cousin Alex, who usually sleep in until noon and 1PM, respectively, had both gone out before I’d even woken up. I left my extra pancakes on a plate, feeling a little dejected that none of my surprisingly delicious gluten-free vegan pancakes, besides the two giant ones I’d devoured, would get eaten while they were still warm.

After I cleaned up the kitchen, I went out to meet a couple friends to get burgers from our favourite burger place (check out the pictures on my Instagram widget on the sidebar or follow me on Instagram kyleensixteenbeans). In the midst of walking around, I received a text from my mother. “Best pancakes I’ve ever eaten,” she texted. I smiled, knowing that at least someone appreciated my pancakes.

Click below for the recipe.

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